Not since Lost has a TV show captured people’s imaginations quite like Westworld. Oh, plenty of shows have worked up a rabid fanbase, but it’s been a long time since we've seen something spawn this level of analysis and complex theories - especially so quickly. The speed at which Westworld fans have cracked massive clues is staggering: mapping out the world to the point the producers admitted that all the speculation is "close."
In the past few episodes, some of the more complex theories have been resolutely confirmed, but one that remains up in the air (no matter how often people proclaim some stray bit of evidence “proves it”) is the suggestion that Westworld is playing a major presentation trick; things aren’t actually unfolding chronologically and we’re instead seeing multiple timelines cut together at once. It's very interesting and much deeper than most people realise. We've got a lot of ground to cover, so let's get to it.
The Multiple Timeline Theory Explained
The theory posits that Westworld is actually showing us two distinct timelines. There’s the “present” (which of course could be anytime in the future, because we have no idea when the show is actually set) featuring Maeve’s awakening, the Man in Black’s hunt, all of Teddy’s memory-changing, and the majority of the behind-the-scenes politics (specifically Ford’s maniacal takeover). Then there’s thirty years in the “past”, with William and Logan’s visit to the park and their run-in with Dolores.
The evidence for this is really stacking up: there are two different Westworld logos, one in William's scenes and a newer version in all the others; none of the proposed future-only characters (Maeve, Teddy) appear in William and Logan’s storyline; the background of Sweetwater is full of minor but impactful aesthetic changes; and, of course, there’s Clifton Collins, Jr., who plays the Man in Black’s hostage Lawrence, then mere scenes after having his throat slit turns up in William’s story as El Lazo, surely far too quickly for the host body to have been repurposed.
But perhaps the most intriguing part of the theory is the major twist it allows: William is the future Man in Black.
Here everything checks out, from William’s gradual transformation from meek player to competent gunslinger, to the Man in Black’s previous knowledge of the game and his recently revealed backstory of a thirty-year marriage that ended tragically. It seems safe to say that the show is secretly showing us the Man in Black’s origins without it even feeling like exposition. A neat extension of all this is that the corporation Logan represents that is thinking of buying the park out is actually Delos, the corporate overlords who sent Charlotte to investigate Ford in the present.
Bonus: The Third Time Period
On a quick side note that will become important later, there is an extension of this theory that posits there’s actually a third time period – the origin of the park, five years before William and Logan took their trip. We saw this explicitly with the convincingly de-aged Anthony Hopkins flashback, but there’s a distinct possibility there’s more. When Bernard was revealed as a host, that was only proving one half of a more involved fan theory: that he's a near perfect replica of Ford’s co-creator Arnold. This says a lot about Ford, but what’s important is that it would allow Jeffrey Wright to play either character without the audience realizing it.
The theory suggests that the scenes where we see Wright conversing with Dolores in secret conversations (in the secret room beneath Ford's house, no less) is actually Arnold slowly losing himself into the consciousness of the hosts in the “far past”. When you remove the presumption that these scenes are taking place alongside the other events, there’s no other way to watch them; we know Arnold had a close relationship with Dolores and we get no evidence of these conversations having any impact on present Bernard.
So, three time periods: Arnold and Dolores at the park’s creation, William and Logan in the past, and everything else (including older William in Black) in the present. Is everybody up to speed? Good, because things are about to get much more complicated.
The Problem: Dolores
Everything slots into place neatly with these theories aside from one major detraction that's getting more blatant the longer it’s ignored: Dolores.
As the show tells it, Dolores escaped the assault on her homestead in the absence of Teddy thanks to memories of her assault at the hands of the Man in Black bleeding through, leading her off-loop and straight into young William’s hands. This is a major contradiction – present William led Dolores to past William – and the only way to maintain the timeline continuity is to presume the two events – Dolores’ escape and meeting William – are just cleverly edited together.
So, for the past five episodes we’ve seen Dolores almost exclusively in the past with William, the only divergences being for conversations with “Bernard,” who we now presume to be with Arnold in the far past. Why exactly Dolores turned up at Billy and Logan’s campfire is thus unclear – did she have a similar homestead escape experience leading to her going off loop or, as Logan posits, did the park simply send her for William? Either way, the theory holds despite the presentation and is all pretty believable
Except if we take all that, then we’re left with a massive, possibly show-defining question yet to be addressed.
Where Is Dolores In The Present?
Dolores is an incredibly important character - the oldest host in the park, and the key to Arnold and the Man in Black. Yet the last time we saw her explicitly in the present was at the homestead escape in Episode 3; since then she’s been surreptitiously MIA as the series shows her only in the past with William. So what the hell is going on? Before going into the fascinating, show-shaping theories, there are two logical, if rather unlikely, possibilities that need to be stated.
The first is that she’s simply been returned to her regular loop after the escape and while everything else has been playing out, she’s been doing the same old thing. If we didn’t know she was so important in the bigger picture, this would be totally acceptable. Instead, the only real suggestion is the scene where Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), seemingly in the present, comments on grabbing her as she goes off-loop, a plot thread which is resolved by William in the past. There's no real explanation for it, but that appears to be just sneaky, misleading editing between two time periods.
The second is that what the Man in Black's told Teddy is somehow true – she has been taken to Wyatt's men. Possible, sure, but he'd only be assuming based on what he knows of her standardized loop, and it would fly in the face of her escape. In fact, it's much more likely the Man in Black is flat-out lying - that would chime with how his attack in the show's first scene actually influenced Dolores’ escape, a key aspect of one of the bigger theories.
Theory #1: She's Repeating Her Journey To The Maze
This leaves us with two theories that have actual, strong backing: one that operates on a logistical level, the other more thematic. First the former, which would make Dolores the unremarked key to the whole show.
Throughout her adventures with William, which have taken the pair incredibly close to the maze, we’ve had flashes of Dolores in the same locations but at different times. These fall into two categories – scenes Dolores is conscious of, and weird shots of her alone when she was previously surrounded by others (most prominently when William and El Lazo disappeared from the background on the train) – and would seem to represent two types of narrative device. The noticed ones are in-world memory flashes Dolores (who is in the past) is having to a previous journey to the maze (in the far past), most likely with or influenced by an alive Arnold (this would be how she was able to paint the landscape of "home" before seeing it); the unremarked ones are a narrative trick on the part of the filmmakers showing Dolores repeating the journey she had with William on her own.
It’s these latter events we’re interested in – adding those with the flashes of previous deaths (shot at the homestead and drowned in the river in the river), we appear to be unknowingly seeing her in the present repeating the journey to the maze. It's taking many loops, evidenced by the deaths, but due to her fractured memory erasing she can learn from each previous failure, gradually getting closer (think Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, expect she's unaware of the repeat). This means that, in the present, Dolores is out on her own, heading to the maze. Who sent her is unclear, but it's likely either the ghost whisperings of Arnold (who told her to get the gun from the yard) or the Man in Black, who attacked her to set her on the path. This would make her the secret weapon of the park's co-creator or future William, either way bad news for Ford.
Theory #2: She's Wyatt
The other explanation would be a more shattering twist that would tie Dolores directly into the Man in Black’s arc and place her as a pawn of Ford’s new narrative.
In Episode 8, Dolores has a triggered memory of some sort of host massacre (possibly the cause of Arnold’s death) that involved both her and another unseen gunman shrouded in fog. Curiously, the blocking of this scene bore a striking similarity to Teddy’s memory of Wyatt’s similar mass killing. Now let's assume that, as Teddy's new backstory was written and introduced by Ford so quickly, it’s based on something pre-written: a previous narrative or, as we’re suggesting here, a memory. Teddy was involved somehow in Dolores' violence and for Wyatt’s backstory, the somehow stored memories of what the pair did has been repurposed, with a spectre of a mad gunslinger in place of the woman he loves. In terms of real actions, Dolores is Wyatt.
But let’s take it one step further and look at what exactly Wyatt is supposed to be in the present. Wyatt's the big bad of Ford’s new storyline, an adventure that has some greater purpose in his plans for the park and, based on his conversation with the MiB, stands as a villain who can finally stop present William. It's worth noting that the character’s been created incredibly quickly, over a period of weeks presumably, much faster than previous head of story Sizemore could conceive. This points towards even more pre-existing elements being used than just Teddy's memories. With all that in mind, who better to be revealed as the character Wyatt than Dolores?
There's something beautiful about it. Dolorois is the woman who William fell for all those years ago and Teddy’s current object of desire, meaning that to prosper both men will have to take on the woman they love, essentially making them both losers. The Man in Black will become as worthless as the host he despises. Logically Dolores will have been repurposed, but the impact of her physical body as this barrier would be staggering. It’s a big stretch, sure, but it serves as a solid alternate explanation for the gun in the yard and wouldn’t break anything we’ve seen so far: the ability to rewrite host’s minds sees to that - the only evidence of what Wyatt looks like comes from Teddy’s false memories, which can be further changed at a moment’s notice to have his accomplice look like Evan Rachel Wood.
Wherever Dolores Is In The Present, It's Important
Out of the two theories, #1 is seemingly the more likely - the evidence is more numerous and stronger - but there's an alluring strength to #2. It is, of course, possible that we'll get a mix - Dolores inspired Wyatt in the far past, while in the present she's repeating her journey with William, set to be an obstacle for the Man in Black. What's ultimately worth taking from all this is that, no matter who she's being controlled by, Dolores' location in the present is incredibly important.
There's a gaping hole that has just enough allusion to suggest it's the secret key to the season, and perhaps the wider direction of the show. Only two episodes to go of this run, and there's a lot that needs to go down.
Westworld returns on Sunday 27th, November with "The Well-Tempered Clavier".
- Westworld (2016 - ) release date: